Sunday Suppers: Feta and Vegetable Fritters: What’s in a Name?

Feta & Vegetable Fritters served with Plain Yoghurt

Prior to the addition of feta cheese, these fritters were pink fairy confetti pancakes. But let us be clear.  No number of girlie names will get my kids to eat anything they don’t want to.  I should know.

There was a time when Francesca would happily devour baby cabbages and fairy trees (Brussels sprouts and broccoli florets to you).  It didn’t last.   

Parents who consider tales of Santa and the Tooth Fairy to be gross fabrications destined to destroy the mutual trust underpinning the fundamentals of the parent-child relationship (and I know you’re there) can relax. 

It wasn’t a matter of misleading my first born.  At no point did I tell her that she would be able to see fairies, grow wings, learn to fly, look thinner, reverse hair loss, double her income or get more dates, although for all I know my mother might have. It was a simple effort to connect with a more interesting world to get those first bites in before she had a chance to think, “I’m not eating that, it’s green.”.  We enjoyed a period of some months before greenism really set in (I know not from whence).

I tried again with Lydia, but parenting can be tough without isolation chambers.  Child 2 quickly learns to read the attitude of child 1. You’ve lost before you started.

If you’ve been following this blog, you may recall my reckless undertaking to involve my children in hands on cooking once a week.  My kids and husband don’t actually know about this, but I have you, Gentle Reader, to keep me honest. So when it came time to prepare this Sunday’s supper, I rounded up the girls, closed my eyes (figuratively anyway) and let them at it.

I diced the onions, grated the tricky bits and did the frying, but they managed the rest themselves.  Yes, Francesca grated a knuckle, but, as she herself pointed out, it wasn’t going to hurt any more now than in a couple of years time.  She had a point.  And up-to-date tetanus shots.

Girls with Sharp Objects

This simple recipe made for an excellent cooking class.  We covered measuring out ingredients (yes, Virginia, there is a correct way to scoop flour), blending wet ingredients into dry (without getting lumps), separating eggs, beating whites by hand and folding them through a heavier mixture.  If they remember any of that, they’ll be ahead of many home cooks.

Learning to beat egg whites.

The best bit?  Despite the vegetable content and complete transparency, each sat down and cleaned off a fritter per year of life without any begging, pleading or cajoling.  I hardly knew what to do with myself.  Even baby Ursula, who had observed the whole procedure with keen interest, put away nearly two and the leftovers were in demand for afternoon tea the next day.  Total success?

OK, so they didn’t want the feta.  Occasionally I know when to cut my losses.  Time for that later.  It was easy enough to cook some fritters without feta first and then to add feta to the remaining batter for the adults.

I made way too much, so I’ve halved my ingredients to give you generous serving for four.

This is a versatile fritter batter that will see you through pancakes sweet and savoury, crisp or soft, freshly cooked or made ahead and frozen.

Feta and Vegetable Fritters

Ingredients:

3 1/2c grated vegetables.

We used 1 medium carrot, 11/2 large zucchini (courgettes) and 1/2 a medium beetroot (red beet).  Keep adding until you’ve made up the volume.  Try other vegetables like sweet corn, capsicums (bell peppers), spinach, grated celery (go easy and remove the strings first), pumpkin or squash.  Finely chopped cooked vegetables can also be used, handy if you have some leftover from the night before.

1 large onion, finely diced

1 1/2 c plain (all purpose flour)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

a generous grinding of black pepper

3/4 to 1 cup of milk, water or soda water

2 eggs, separated

200g crumbled feta (optional)

finely chopped herbs (optional): fresh coriander (cilantro) and mint work well with zucchini or beets

vegetable oil for frying

sea salt for sprinkling

herbs and unsweetened yoghurt or sour cream to serve

Method:

1. Grate and measure the vegetables, dice the onion and set aside. If the vegetables are particularly watery, you may want to salt them lightly and drain in a sieve or colander whilse preparing the batter.

2. In a large, c. 2 litre (quart) bowl, add flour, mix in the baking powder, salt and pepper and make a well.

3. Separate the eggs. This stage is not essential, but makes for a much lighter fritter without adding more baking powder, which has an unpleasant taste.  Add the yolks to the well and put the whites in a large clean bowl.

4. Measure out the first 3/4c of liquid. I used milk to maximise the nutritional value of the dish, but water works fine, and soda, if you have it, is best of all for a light, crisp result. If you’ve used tinned whole kernel corn, you can also reserve and use the liquid drained from the corn.

5. Add the liquid to the eggs in the well, beat together lightly and then, using a wooden spoon, keep stirring, gradually working more and more of the flour mixture into the egg mixture.  Add the vegetables and any herbs.  This mixture should not be too stiff. You want it to drop easily from the spoon without being runny.  Keep in mind that the egg whites will loosen the batter a little more.  If it seems too dry, stir in a little more liquid.

6. Whisk the whites until they hold peaks.  It really doesn’t take long by hand, if you don’t have a mixer or, like me, can’t be bothered getting it out. Fold in the whites: add 1/3 of the whites to begin with, work them in gently using a spoon, a cutting rather than stirring motion and rotating the bowl as you go.  Once incorporated, repeat with the balance of the whites.  If you have left the eggs whole, omit this step.

Folding whites into the batter.

The batter with the balance of the whites added but not yet folded through.  If you’ve used some beets, don’t panic, the pink cooks out, though it may colour the feta slightly if you use it.

7. Add the feta (if using), fold through until the mixture is just uniform.

8. Heat vegetable oil in a heavy skillet.  Add heaped tablespoons of the mix to the pan to form  8cm (3″) fritters or your preferred size.  If you have a good non-stick pan, you can get away without any oil at all.  In that case your fritters will not brown so much and will remain soft, more like breakfast pancakes.  If you use oil, you will get a crunchy fritter, but be sure to keep the pan hot enough so that the fritters seal before they absorb a lot of oil.

9.  Cook until the fritters are golden brown on the underside, bubbles appear on the top and the pancakes begin to set around the edges.  Turn over and cook until the second side is also golden brown.

Nearly ready to turn.

Nearly ready to turn: some of the back ones are just starting to set at the edges.

Ready

Ready to serve when they look like this on both sides.

10.  Serve immediately, or transfer to a roasting pan or tray with a rack over it, or lined with scrunched up kitchen paper.  If using paper, try to lean cooked fritters on their sides and avoid stacking.  This allows the steam to escape from both sides of the fritter and stops the fritters from going soggy and limp.  Sprinkle with sea salt before they cool completely.

Tips for Making Ahead:

11. You can make these ahead of time. Cool completely, then refrigerate or freeze in an airtight container, separated by layers of cling film. To reheat, arrange in a single layer on a baking tray (cookie sheet) and heat in a 220 C (430 F) oven until they are heated through and bubbling at the edges.  You can do this from frozen.  If you know you will be reheating, under-cook slightly the first time so they don’t burn while reheating.

Fritters as Finger Food or Appetisers:

12. For a tasty appetiser, make fritters with one vegetable (say corn) and serve topped with crisp bacon, avocado and sour cream.  Especially good with a touch of red capsicum jam or sweet chilli sauce. For finger food keep the fritters bite sized.

For a Sweet Version:

13.  For a sweet version, replace the teaspoon of salt with castor sugar, omit onions, make up the liquid with water or milk (soda water is salty) and a touch of vanilla, and fold 1 1/2 to 2 cups of berries, bananas or cooked, very well drained apples into the batter (in place of vegetables, onions and herbs).  If berries are frozen, be mindful that the fritters will be much colder and will take longer to cook. For improved flavour you can also add some butter to the cooking oil. To serve, dust with icing sugar (and cinnamon if you like it) and serve with whipped cream, yoghurt or sour cream.  Yum.

Keeping the Workers Happy

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Sunday Suppers: Smoked Sausage and Melted Onion Sauce

Smoked Sausage and Onion Sauce on Mash

Growing up, Sunday night meals were always different from the rest.

If the extended family hadn’t gathered for a big lunch, we would, almost without exception, have spent the afternoon together for coffee. In our family, no gathering is really conceivable without prodigious quantities of food, so when I say coffee, think more of a light luncheon served a bit later in the day.

Come Sunday evening, nobody, least of all my Mum who had done most of the cooking, felt like a large meal of the meat and three veg variety. The guests had left. In their wake the house felt empty. The dying strains of The Wonderful World of Disney could be heard from some remote corner of the house as if quietly jeering, “That’s it, your weekend is over, the cold world awaits you on the morrow.  And by the way you’re late with your English homework.”

Sunday nights were made for comfort food, those in between dishes that frowning matrons would not consider a proper meal, carbohydrates and peasant cooking.

Times have changed.  Family dinners tend to be on Saturday nights and the weekly Sunday coffee gathering are long gone.  Sunday night syndrome is not, thankfully, what it used to be.  But damned if I’m going to let those supper dishes go.

This Sunday’s was one my mother and grandmother used to make, sometimes as part of a larger meal.  It used to be a staple of mine too, then somehow over the years I’d forgotten it until the other day I found a loop of Krakowska sausage in the freezer.  The shape reminded me of the thicker type of rookworst sausage my mother used to use for this dish.  Pretty much any smoked pork sausage would do, at a real push maybe even kransky, but I’d avoid sausages that are highly seasoned, dry or fatty – leave the salami end of the spectrum and go for something with more moisture.

I’ve served it with mash, but it’s also good alongside noodles, buckwheat kasha or just a good piece of rye bread.  You could also stop before the thickening stage and use the sausage and onions with a little goats cheese and caraway on a pizza base.

Smoked Sausage and Melted Onion Sauce

2tbsp vegetable oil

500g or 1lb moist smoked pork sausage, in 1/2cm or 1/4″ slices

8 to 10 medium onions, halved and cut into 1/2cm or 1/4″ slices

salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 large or two small bay leaves

2 to 3 tbsp cider or other mild white vinegar

11/2 to 2 tbsp flour

1 1/2c good beef or chicken stock

sugar to taste (if needed)

1. Heat vegetable oil in a broad, heat proof casserole or similar.  Add sausage and cook over a moderate heat until the sausage is deep golden brown.  If the sausage is fatty, reduce the amount of oil you start with.

Fry the sausage gently to a deep golden brown.

2. Add the onions, bay leaf and seasonings.  It will look like a lot, but the onions really cook down.

Add onions.

3. Cook over low to moderate heat stirring frequently until the onions are starting to melt and turn a light golden brown.  You will need to stir more often and perhaps reduce heat as the onions get closer to being ready. If you burn the onions it’s pretty much all over.  If you’re having problems, add some of the stock or some water little by little so as to let the onions cook some more without sticking.

Onions melting and light golden.

3. Add the vinegar to taste and let it cook out. Remove the bay leaf.   If you want to put this on bread of some kind check the seasonings. Depending on the onions and vinegar, you may need to add a touch of sugar.  If so, sprinkle it in and let it cook through.  Taste again in case you need more.  If it’s too sweet, you can try to balance with a little more vinegar.

4. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture, stir in through, let the mixture cook a little – you want the flour to cook through some.  Stir in the stock.  It will tend to go more easily if the stock is already hot.  If the sauce is to thick add more stock or water.  Check for seasonings, sugar or more vinegar as at step 3 above.

5. You’re ready to serve.

Smoked Sausage, Onions and Mash